The County of Derry takes its name from its largest city, steeped in centuries of tumultuous history. Alternatively called County Londonderry, the name used for this region (as with the name of the city) is contentious, and typically depends on the cultural / political identify of the speaker. In general, many Unionists / Protestants prefer "Londonderry", while most Nationalists / Catholics tend to refer to it simply as "Derry". The name dispute reflects the cultural tensions that still exist, despite Northern Ireland's political settlement. See: What is the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland? Whatever you choose to call it (I'm going with Derry, for brevity), this wonderful county offers both the beauties of nature in its scenic coastal areas and the Sperrin Mountains, as well as a multitude of historical sites dating back to the foundation of Derry City in 546 and beyond.
County Derry Highlights
Many of County Derry’s historical attractions are located within bounds of Derry City, but outlying areas are rich in outdoor attractions -- such as forests, nature reserves and beautiful beaches. Around the county, scenic locations such as Downhill (picture above) are found right along Derry's coastline, which stretches to the pretty seaside town of Portstewart. Inland, Limavady is a quaint little town, nestled under the impressive Binenvagh mountain.
The City Walls of Derry are remarkably well preserved, considering that they date back to 1618, marking the boundaries of the city at that point in its long history. St. Columb’s Cathedral showcases relics of the Siege within a 1633 Gothic Church. A variety of museums, including the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, the Tower Museum and the Workhouse Museum, chronicle the long and eventful past of the region. Derry sits upon ground that has been occupied for so many centuries that it is literally overflowing with evidence of the lifestyles, struggles and triumphs of its past citizenry. Recent history can be revisited at Free Derry Corner and by inspecting the Bogside Murals, expressions of the period known as the Troubles during the century just past. Those interested in historic buildings should check out the Victorian Guildhall -- Derry's political and administrative centre -- and Prehen House -- a beautiful old mansion that is believed to be haunted.
County Derry History
- County Derry, as described by its current boundaries, had its beginnings in 1613.
- The county was arranged to the advantage of the Irish Society and the influential livery companies of London, who wanted the boundaries to encompass land on both sides of Rivers Foyle and Bann.
- In those days, Coleraine was the county town, and also the former name of the county itself.
- The city of Derry has a very long history, dating back to the 6th century A.D., when the Celts named it Daire, a word that translates into ‘oak grove’.
- Druids occupied this sacred oak grove until St. Columba established a monastery on the site in the 6th century.
- During following centuries Derry City survived through Viking invasions and the arrival of the English to legally be declared a city in 1603.
- It was destroyed in 1608 in battle following the Flight of the Earls and rebuilt during the Plantation period instituted by King James I to colonise Ulster with Protestant settlers.
- The indelible imprint of the Siege of Derry in 1688 is still visible upon the city’s character today.
- Citizens behind the city walls held off the soldiers of King James for 105 days.
Popular Derry Surnames
Common surnames in County Derry include:
Downhill, County Derry. Image: Eskling.